What to look for in a pre-school

By on December 17, 2013

Looking after your children’s needs in the first two years is relatively easier compared to the task of looking for a good preschool.  That’s because there are too many things to consider for families especially those new to Japan.
Many factors have to be taken into consideration such as type of learning needs and family circumstances among others.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by too many information at open house events.  Before you do, let’s look at what’s most important.

Academic or play-based?
The most common question young parents ask, and I read this all the time in most social media blogs, is ‘which school do you recommend’?  I think the question parents should be asking themselves instead is… “what skills do I want our kids to have”?

There are both academic and play-centric school options in Japan.  Studies made by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD,  a leading psychologist and researcher at Temple University suggests that “children who attended more academic preschools instead of play-focused preschools were found to be more anxious, less creative, and less enthusiastic about learning than the children who had learned primarily through play.”

Expat families move across the globe wherever the job takes them.  With the goal of making a smooth transfer to a school abroad, they choose international education.  So what can happen if you opt for the structured academic learning environment?

In a study entitled “Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success”, researcher at the University of Florida Rebecca Marcon has this to say:
“In one study, researchers compared the performance of students who had attended play-oriented child-initiated preschools (CI), more academically-directed preschools (AD), and mixed preschools (M).  By the end of the primary grades, there was little difference in the academic performance of children who had experienced three different preschool models. This finding was consistent with the developmental assumption that, by the end of third grade, most children will have attained the basic academic skills. . . .Through the primary grades, children are learning to read. An academically directed approach typically emphasizes the act of reading over comprehension. Beginning in fourth grade, children are reading to learn; comprehension is critical. In fourth grade, they encounter more abstract concepts
that do not necessarily match up with their everyday experiences. Additionally, fourth-grade teachers expect children to be more independent in the learning process, to
assume more responsibility for their learning, and to show greater initiative. Perhaps teachers foster this independence by stepping back somewhat and shifting their
instructional approach to be less didactic. It is at this point that motivation and self-initiated learning become crucial for children’s later school success. This is the point at which Elkind (1986) and Zigler (1987) worried that short-term academic gains produced by overly didactic, formal instructional practices for young children would be offset by long-term stifling of children’s motivation. Important lessons about independence and self-initiative are being learned in the early childhood years. Overly teacher-directed approaches that tell young children what to do, when to do it, and how to do it most likely curtail development of initiative during the preschool years. According to developmentalist Constance Kamii (1975, 1984), such an approach produces passive students who wait to be told what to think next. Therefore, it is not really surprising that children whose pre-school experience may have curtailed initiative would find the transition to the later elementary school grades more difficult. The foundation of critical thinking may be found in early childhood experiences that foster curiosity, initiative, independence, and effective choice.”

One pre-K teacher explains the principle to parents with a simple analogy – “We can make wine or we can make vinegar. Fine wine may take more time, but the flavor is well rounded.”

So quoting Hirsh-Pasek’s final word of advice to parents, “When you make choices for your children, select what looks like the most fun.  Visit some of the classes or activities and see what the children are doing.  Is the place one in which children can take a lead and show their creativity?  Is it child-centered?  . . . Also
ask yourself what the purpose of the activity is.  It should primarily be for fun and only secondarily for learning.”

About Julie Wilson